Travellers trying to get away from the UK over the Jubilee bank holiday weekend have been advised to arrive no more than three hours before their flights as snaking queues add to the chaos at short-staffed airports.
Tui and Ryanair are among airlines and holiday companies advising customers to arrive at UK airports three hours before their flights to allow time to check in, rather than the usual two-hour slot.
But customers arriving six or seven hours before flights were causing more problems, one travel industry executive said. “The ecosystem works when people come when they are intended to come and join the queue.”
Tui said that since the disruption earlier in the week — a result of a lack of airport staff to service flights amid soaring demand — schedules had stabilised and it expected to send 27,000 people on holiday on Friday with no further cancellations except six flights out of Manchester airport.
The Anglo-German holiday company said on Tuesday that it planned to cancel six flights a day from Manchester until the end of June, as that was where problems with staffing have been most acute.
Between Thursday and Sunday, 10,794 flights are expected to depart from the UK, according to the aviation tracker Cirium, with capacity for some 1.9mn passengers. Between May 30 and Thursday morning 207 flights had been cancelled, with Gatwick airport the most badly affected.
The issues have been widespread across Europe, industry executives said, with long delays reported at airports including Brussels, Schiphol in Amsterdam and Bratislava.
Paul Charles, an adviser to the travel industry, estimated that the sector was missing about a third of its pre-pandemic workforce and efforts to recruit were hampered by delays to security clearances and companies no longer being profitable enough to offer competitive wages.
“It is an issue that has to be solved in the next six weeks before the next peak in mid-July, which will be even busier than now,” he said.
During the pandemic airlines and airports laid off thousands of staff as travel came to a standstill, and they have struggled to recruit workers in line with volatile demand.
Simon Cooper, chief executive of the online travel company On The Beach, said difficulties at airports meant “the whole industry is suffering”, with contact centre staff having to deal with high call volumes from worried customers.
“It’s very difficult to put someone on an alternative flight with 24 hours notice so [customers have to rebook],” he said.
On The Beach had been forced to cancel holidays but only into the “hundreds”, Cooper said, as it was not reliant on Tui and easyJet, which have experienced the most cancellations.
Stansted, the UK’s third busiest airport, said it was operating normally on Thursday, processing more than 12,000 passengers by 7am against its daily forecast for 45,000 passengers departing and 40,000 arriving.
“We advise passengers to arrive as advised by their airlines and not to turn up any earlier than required,” it said.
Gatwick airport said: “The airport is operating normally today but will be busy today with 733 flights. We continue to advise passengers to arrive at the airport as soon as check-in opens for their flight. Typically, this is three hours for long haul and two to two-and-a-half for short haul.”
Heathrow airport, the UK’s largest hub, said there were 10 to 15-minute queues during the morning peak but it had not seen the scale of flight cancellations or delays compared with other airports in the country.
Manchester airport has been advising passengers to arrive three hours before their flights. It said security queues have generally been within 30 minutes, with occasional spikes of 60-90 minutes.
“However, we continue to advise passengers there will be some instances when queues will be longer than we would like and that is why we ask those travelling through Manchester to arrive three hours before their flight and to be as prepared as they can be.”
Swissport, its ground handling provider that the airport has blamed for the Tui flight cancellations, said it was “working hard to address our resource challenges, with over 2,800 new hirings since the start of the year”.
It is one of a number of services to “deliver different elements of a single passenger journey and in busy periods the knock-on effects of delays stemming from one part, such as air traffic issues, security queues and late changes to flight schedules can lead to disruption in others,” it said.